The Incident at Stop Sixteen


“Shower customer 149, your shower is ready. Please proceed to shower number 43.

Shower customer 149, your shower is ready. Please proceed to shower number 43.”

A soothing mist of mouthless words, and a viral brightness too numbing; it’s sightless. Glance away from the candy bars and red vines to the air-filled bags of corn chips and pretzel bites. There’s a man wearing slippers with a trucker’s hat and bathrobe rough-handling three hotdogs, forcing them to bath in relish-coated onions.

Of all the overheating, long distance cars parked outside, which stiff driver, customer 149, is now headed to strip in a stall through a door just on the other side of the sunglasses’ rack and the rows of ceramic eagles, wizards with green shimmery dragons, and attack-ready mountain lions?

How far has shower customer 149 come, and how long since hot water has slipped over bare skin and tight muscles? Is 149 self-absorbed and tired enough to blank out his surroundings? Or is she worried about bare-footing it in an overused, under-cleaned public shower stall?

The reverent call goes out again, but this time its mist is heavy with undertones, pleading for human response. Somewhere a stall is empty of naked flesh. How long will shower customer 149’s window of access remain open?

I dash forward, dropping carmel alligators and sour rabbits to the glossy floor. In the air floats a paper ticket stub. It’s pulled toward my chest by momentum and sourceless desire; so I grasp it two-handed with the gleeful knowledge it’s got the number 149 in black print.

That stiff driver is now me, and in my imagination as I run past rows of ceramic wizards and eagles I’m tearing off my clothing, pants trailing around one shoeless foot.

“Shower customer 149, your shower is ready” rings out buffeting my joyous (mentally naked) dash. “Please proceed to shower number…” as the overhead voice abruptly cuts out I reach the horizon of the doorway and step through into warm steamy light.

A woman — facial features embarrassed and sheepish, but voice determined — is pleading her case to the shower attendant. She is number 149, her bare skin and tight muscles visible through loose, half removed skirt and top. Her black flip flops dangle from the fingers of one hand, and a towel from the others.

I’m dead-stop caught on the borderline of dream and reality, staring down the barrel of my awkward conscience. Can I give up my delight — this new hope of cleansing hot water? She lost the ticket. Salvagers’ rights!

I regret letting those sour rabbits fall. Their tangy rabbit kicks might embolden my tongue and amp up my courage to own this found shower ticket. Own it!

Actual number 149 and the attendant turn toward me. My partial nakedness, more a reality than I’d imagined, tells the whole truth ahead of my stuttering verbalisations. Owning instead her embarrassment and sheepish look, I hand number 149 the priceless ticket stub and turn away.

It’s all over; I’m retaking my steps past defiant cougars and sunglasses, by trucker’s hats and tasty food products, to the outside doors and the shameless confines of my car.



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